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Benny & Joon

(1993) ** 1/2 Pg
109 min. MGM. Director: Jeremiah Chechik. Cast: Johnny Depp, Mary Stuart Masterson, Aidan Quinn, Julianne Moore, Oliver Platt.

/content/films/4024/2.jpgAny film that features Johnny Depp performing salutes to the great silent comedians (and, in particular, Buster Keaton) deserves a little slack, and Benny & Joon is that film. Those susceptible to cavities should stock up on toothpaste and floss, but director Jeremiah Chechik and screenwriter Barry Berman make no bones about their intent to craft a sweet storybook romance, with no pesky realism to get in the way. Since the story deals with mental illness, Benny & Joon risks offense, but Chechik and Berman are after nothing more than warm fuzzies and a reminder that love conquers all.

Benny (Aidan Quinn) and Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson) are brother and sister. Since Joon suffers from a barely manageable mental illness (what appears to be schizophrenia), she lives with Benny, who watches over her when not fixing cars at the local garage. Lining up a caretaker for the daytime has proved a constant struggle, but Benny stumbles onto an odd young man named Sam (Depp), the cousin of Benny's friend Mike (Joe Grifasi). The patient and sensitive Sam turns out to be the perfect housekeeper, but he's a little too perfect: Joon falls for him, and the two embark on a romance that proves a bit scary for everyone. Should Sam and Joon find a way to make it work, Benny might get his own life back, and that tantalizing possibility opens the door to a potential relationship with a local waitress (Julianne Moore) who used to be a B-movie scream queen.

Benny & Joon often gets the better of its audience, teasing out smiles despite its self-conscious quirkiness. Depp performs several routines that evoke Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Keaton, and even grumps may have to admit there's magic to these moments. Quinn is at his best as the long-suffering, constantly exasperated Benny, who frequently does the wrong thing for the right reasons, and Moore makes an amusing romantic foil. Masterson gives some weight—and plenty of yearning soulfulness—to Joon, but the role, as written, is like a minefield, and she has to follow the script's dictates. It's something of a miracle that Benny & Joon works as well as it does, but it's hard not to feel goodwill about a fable about the healing power of love (familial and romantic) and a movie that's so in love with movies.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

Street date: 4/5/2011

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

MGM delivers Benny & Joon to Blu-ray in a nice-priced special edition. The hi-def transfer accurately presents the film without digital tampering: colors a bit dull, and there's intermittent softness, but these are features of the film as it was shot. Grain is natural and detail takes a step up from DVD, making this a worthwhile purchase for fans of the film and certainly for first-time adopters. Adding value is a solid DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that, again, (pre)serves the filmmakers' original work.

Bonus features include a reasonably informative audio commentary with director Jeremiah Chechik, two "Deleted Scenes" (5:12, SD), "Costume, Make-Up Test, and Stunt Reel" (18:45, SD) with cinematographer John Schwartzman providing context, and "Music Video - The Proclaimers 'I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)'" (3:40, SD)

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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